Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cover cropping

Now that we've reached 30 vegetable beds and the end of the summer growing season, we are filling any bare or newly dug soil with cover crops.

Sowing wheat+vetch in Argentina
Cover crops are plants grown in order to improve the quality of soils, provide green manure which can be used as mulch or composted for natural fertilizer, provide food for animals, suppress weed competition and help naturally protect against plant diseases and pests. On a small farm that aims to be self-sufficient, cover crops are essential to naturally replace the “boost” given by chemical or organically-approved fertilizers and help maintain the nutritional vitality of your soil in a sustainable and balanced way. Most cover crops are in the legume, grass or cereal plant families and there are many to choose from. Some are perennials, some annuals; some have tap roots up to 7 feet long; some grow so fast they smother other possible weeds waiting to come up; some fix nitrogen in the soil; some you allow to flower; some you mow; some you just incorporate into the soil. Each cover crop has unique contributions to the organic farm.

You might remember we sowed our first cover crop of clover in March with our frost-seeding method. Now we've got our first sowing of cover crops in our newly single-dug beds: oilseed radish and hairy vetch; and winter rye and hairy vetch. The oilseed radish grows quickly (unfortunately, so quickly that it seems to be outgrowing our vetch) and its roots tap down several feet, loosening the soil below and tapping into subsoil nutrients. The hairy vetch is a heavy nitrogen fixer. The winter rye suppresses weeds and is a good green manure. And we are planning on sowing buckwheat in any new plots we dig or harvest completely from because it is a fast-growing smother crop that you can incorporate into your soil as part of your fall bed preparation plan.

The sowing never stops!

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